A Few Questions I’ve Received…

And their hope­fully concern-relieving answers.

I’ve received a few ques­tions about my study abroad expe­ri­ence and I’m going to try to answer them to the best of my abil­ity~ FOR THE GREATER GOOD

 

1.) You weren’t there for a whole semes­ter, right? Was it a spe­cial sum­mer pro­gram kind of thing?

INDEED. This is a thing that may not apply to your par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence— my school offers some­thing called an Explo­ration Sem­i­nar, which takes place over 5 weeks in late August-early Sep­tem­ber. It’s worth 5 cred­its (we take 3 classes per quar­ter, at 5 cred­its each), and the cred­its apply to Fall quar­ter (so this fall quar­ter I’m phys­i­cally attend­ing only two classes, but still get­ting 15 cred­its worth). To my knowl­edge this isn’t some­thing that many other schools do.

I have had friends on semes­ter sys­tems take full semes­ters abroad though (… in Ire­land, but), and they enjoyed it very much. If you have any ques­tions about the semes­ter study abroad, I can for­ward them to her, if you like! It’s much more about get­ting into the swing of that country’s school sys­tem though, whereas mine was kind of like ~LET’S GO LIVE IN KOREA FOR FIVE WEEKS YAYYYY and some days we’ll even attend LECTURES OOOOOH~
2.) Does your school have a part­ner­ship with Kyunghee that allowed you to go?

Yes and no! We’re not one of Kyunghee’s ~offi­cial part­ners~ as far as I know, but we have con­nec­tions there. Basi­cally, we attended spe­cial lec­tures by Kyunghee pro­fes­sors. When we were at KAIST in Dae­jeon, we sat in on graduate-level courses. There were fif­teen UW stu­dents in my pro­gram— it was spe­cially designed to allow us to kind of float around, expe­ri­enc­ing facets of Korea. I’M SORRY THIS IS VERY UNHELPFUL.
4.) Does one need to know a cer­tain amount of Korean?

ABSOLUTELY NOT. You can’t really rely on every­one speak­ing Eng­lish, though peo­ple do tend to speak a lit­tle. But all the street signs, sub­way nav­i­ga­tion, etc. are in Eng­lish. Know­ing how to say please, hello, and thank you will take you ALL THE WAY. If you read Korean let­ters it’s also quite help­ful, and only takes about an hour to learn at a rudi­men­tary level if you do flash­cards. But there were many peo­ple in my group who didn’t at all, and they had a great time.

More impor­tantly than all that, I did not meet a sin­gle per­son who, if you were polite, wasn’t com­pletely will­ing to help me get where I was going, buy what­ever food I needed, etc. Peo­ple are super nice. And this is some­thing that I’ve encoun­tered over and over again in Europe as well. I think the language/culture bar­rier was the most fright­en­ing thing for me before I went to Korea, but upon arriv­ing there every­thing went incred­i­bly smoothly. I wouldn’t let hav­ing a min­i­mal knowl­edge of Korean dis­suade any­one from going.
5.) And pos­si­bly most impor­tantly: You seem to be a well trav­eled per­son, liv­ing in France etc. and I also get the impres­sion that you’re pretty out­go­ing? Is it a stu­pid idea for a shy per­son to even con­sider exchange programs?

IT IS TRUE THAT I AM QUITE OUTGOING, HOWEVER! I am also kind of shy some­times, and I think that if you’re shy, the joy you get out of study abroad will come from how com­fort­able you are with your shyness.

If spend­ing time alone is some­thing that you’re totally okay with, that is absolutely fine. As long as you’re smart about it, Korea is a very safe coun­try. You can get plenty of enjoy­ment from wan­der­ing around Seoul alone, if that’s what you feel com­fort­able doing.

That being said, I have found mak­ing friends in a study abroad set­ting much eas­ier than mak­ing friends in nor­mal uni­ver­sity classes. For­eign stu­dents gen­er­ally find each other and clump together. Even if there are no stu­dents from your school on the trip, you will prob­a­bly know the oth­ers from ori­en­ta­tion or what have you. Abroad, every­one is kind of teth­er­less and alone and you basi­cally become auto­matic friends with who­ever is right there because you need to. It won’t be a sit­u­a­tion where there’s a clique of peo­ple that is impos­si­ble to get into (though on all the trips I’ve been on there have tended to be a cou­ple friends among the group)— every­one is sort of look­ing to be friends with who­ever is around them, and if you just stick with the peo­ple that are in your group, you will never be lack­ing for friends.

For a shy per­son, at least in my expe­ri­ence, the hard­est part of that is acknowl­edg­ing that you have a right to be among that group, and to make sure to say things like “Hey, let me know what you’re doing later” so that peo­ple don’t for­get to include you. Which can def­i­nitely be hard, but if you just keep in mind that EVERYONE IS AS ALONE AS YOU ARE it will hope­fully get easier.

(also there will prob­a­bly be one really assertive out­go­ing per­son who is really good at mak­ing plans and orga­niz­ing peo­ple and has lots of ideas for what they want to do. Find this per­son. Stick with them.)

As for mak­ing friends with Korean stu­dents, IT IS A UNIVERSAL RULE THAT WHATEVER THE LOCALS OF A PLACE ARE LOVE FOREIGN STUDENTS. Every­where I’ve been (… Europe and Korea…) peo­ple have wanted to ask me ques­tions about Amer­ica and show me stuff and talk to me and even just prac­tice their Eng­lish. And if you’re a really lonely for­eigner, THAT CAN BE REALLY NICE BECAUSE YOU JUST WANT FRIENDS YOURE SO LONELY OH GODDDDDD.

TL;DR GO FOR IT

My num­ber one piece of advice for trav­el­ing alone (as opposed to with fam­ily as a depen­dent) is when­ever you get stressed about some­thing, sit back and real­ize that apart from your dying in a hor­ri­ble freak acci­dent, noth­ing can go wrong. If you miss a flight, you can catch another one. If you get lost, you’re not going to be lost for­ever. If you order weird food in a restau­rant by acci­dent, RUN OUT THE DOOR no really it’ll be okay.

I real­ize this is a pol­icy tooooooooooooootally founded in ridicu­lous opti­mism, but seri­ously, noth­ing can go wrong per­ma­nently. There is no one thing that you can do that will totally screw up your life. Rather, you’re going to make a bunch of great sto­ries that you can brag about later and prob­a­bly have an awe­some time.

Also never do drugs in for­eign coun­tries because you will be arrested AND DIE

Google Korea

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Can I just open this post by say­ing I really, really want to work at Google? And yes, the Seoul cam­pus would be great.
Imme­di­ately after leav­ing Dae­jeon we were on the road to Seoul, des­ti­na­tion: Google Korea. I didn’t get many pic­tures, unfor­tu­nately. I was a lit­tle wary because there were a lot of secu­rity reg­u­la­tions, but they told us we could take pic­tures of posters and com­mu­nity spaces. Which is for­tu­nate because the lunch room was just fabulous.

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In fact all of the com­plex seemed fab­u­lous.
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It was a pretty small space com­pared to what I’ve heard of Google’s other cam­puses, but it was full of what seemed to be a very high con­cen­tra­tion of attrac­tive and well-dressed peo­ple. I ate lunch among them, feel­ing like a total slob.
P.S. Google food? Just as good as you’ve heard.
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The view was good too, I guess…

We had a brief lec­ture from Cameron Jones, who is actu­ally the hus­band of one of our fac­ulty, Jin Ha Lee. He works at Google on Maps and image ren­der­ing, so he spoke a bit about crowd-sourcing and how the Maps project is helped by user-content and photo data.
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I’m so pleased to have finally seen the inside of a Google work­space. The bath­rooms were also superb…
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Our tour was short and sweet, and as we were walk­ing back to the bus I took he oppor­tu­nity to creep on the peo­ple of Gang­nam and remark on how well-dressed sim­ply every­one is. It’s actu­ally a lit­tle painful at times, though I’m try­ing hard to be fash­ion­able. I can never live up to the Kore­ans. The best part of it, to me at least, is that the men seem to put as much effort into their fash­ion as women do. Maye they’re not wear­ing spike heels, but their hair is coiffed and their suits fit very well indeed. I mean, I guess the gen­der equal­ity on that front only con­tributes to me feel­ing like twice the slob if I don’t dress up, but I appre­ci­ate them mak­ing the effort!
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Yeah, I’m creepy.

Grad School in Korea: Visiting KAIST

After a less-than-academic week due to the typhoon and a trip to Busan for some sea­side cul­ture (read: deli­cious fresh seafood), our group bussed back north through Jirisan National Park and finally arrived in Dae­jeon, home of the famous KAIST. Full name: Korea Advanced Insti­tute of Sci­ence and Technology.

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…yeah, it’s that kind of school.

Our pro­fes­sor, Matthew Sax­ton, kept telling us that KAIST stu­dents are basi­cally the Korean equiv­a­lent of MIT stu­dents in the U.S. It is a grad­u­ate school of small size and dynamic influ­ence, which often sends sees grads employed at com­pa­nies like Sam­sung, Hyundai, and LG. We were there for a series of work­shops and lec­tures in the Cul­ture Tech­nol­ogy pro­gram, oth­er­wise known as What I Want To Do With My Life.

Our home for the three days we were there was the futur­is­tic Guest House, sit­u­ated in a giant, sus­pi­ciously clean office park/construction zone, right next to an empty exhi­bi­tion cen­ter. The doors opened with mag­net keys and required a but­ton to be pressed on the inside if you wanted to actu­ally leave. Once we left the door open too long and trig­gered an alarm when I tried to close it, which only turned off when I went out­side and put the key to the lock. It made all kinds of whirring and beep­ing noises and I’m cer­tain it was more tech­no­log­i­cally advanced than any­thing I own.

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Any­way, lec­tures.
It was great to be back in class after such a long break! We had five lec­tures and a work­shop, with both our own fac­ulty and KAIST fac­ulty. Some of our KAIST lec­tures were in fact classes taught to KAIST stu­dents– in Eng­lish. At KAIST, we learned, teach­ers get a pay boost for teach­ing in Eng­lish and the entire busi­ness pro­gram is actu­ally taught in Eng­lish. Our lec­tures included top­ics like Soci­o­log­i­cal Ambil­va­lence and Social Net­works and Music Infor­ma­tion Retrieval. It actu­ally reminded me quite a bit of the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary classes at UWB!
We spent a lot of time talk­ing and learn­ing about net­works, both in the soci­o­log­i­cal and tech­ni­cal sense. Also, I learned how the Inter­net works, which was def­i­nitely a high­light for me, because for some­one who spends most of her life online, I sure as heck had no idea what went on there.
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A def­i­nite bright spot of the KAIST expe­ri­ence was work­ing with grad stu­dents, many of which were con­duct­ing research on sites like Twit­ter and Face­book. One guy actu­ally took the oppor­tu­nity to inter­view us about the spread of Kpop in Amer­ica, which is… Well, a sub­ject that I have a, shall we say, some­what large per­sonal inter­est in. I would love to read his paper when he’s done.
The KAIST cam­pus is large, thought he stu­dent body is rather small. Still, the cafe was always packed when we went (maybe because cof­fee there is a good 2,000 won cheaper than most other places…), and we saw more for­eign stu­dents than we had seen at Kyunghee Uni­ver­sity in Seoul. Dae­jeon itself seemed a bit small, espe­cially after being in Seoul for a week. We did ven­ture out and find the col­lege area though, which was packed with peo­ple, brightly lit, and full of deli­cious food. Pretty much the Korean stan­dard. The thing about Korea, at least that I’ve found so far, is that the col­lege areas are twice as busy as the U dis­trict in Seat­tle, and about ten times as safe. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. Our tour guide, who was a Cul­ture Tech­nol­ogy grad stu­dent, said that most stu­dents still go to Seoul on the week­ends. I can under­stand that. No mat­ter how cool your town is, it is cer­tainly hard to com­pete with Seoul.
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The lit­tle bit of Dae­jeon that we saw was lovely though, and I’m sad that our lec­tures ended so quickly! It seems like most of this trip has been deter­mined to give me a taste of Korea and make me crazy for more.
Well-played, Sax­ton. Well-played.

Typhoons and Templestays

A typhoon is hit­ting Seoul right now, and not just the typhoon of my exces­sive enthu­si­asm for Korean culture.

Nope, we’re legit­i­mately in the mid­dle of a storm which, I have been told, will prob­a­bly skirt this coast before being buf­feted north to hit North Korea. As fool­ish col­lege stu­dents, we’re all very excited, though I have some mis­giv­ings about being cut in half by fly­ing debris.

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Really though, it’s not that bad! I swear! Don’t tell my mom I made a joke about fly­ing debris!

The most strik­ing thing about the typhoon, besides how lovely and warm it is, is how styl­ish Seoulites per­sist in being, despite the fact that some pub­lic schools have been closed. I still see women walk­ing around in short dresses under their plas­tic pon­chos, stiletto heels soaked from the rain.

Of course, that might just be because we decided to come to Myeong­dong to wait out the rain. Myeong­dong is one of Seoul’s pre­mier shop­ping areas (one of MANY, MANY, MANY), and by far my favorite. While COEX, Asia’s largest under­ground mall, is a claus­tro­pho­bic maze of iden­ti­cal hall­ways and floures­cent light­ing, Myeong­dong is a chaotic, beau­ti­ful mess of street ven­dors and tiny shops, which are basi­cally giant traps for my poor bank account. At night, every­thing is com­pletely lit up, and even dur­ing a typhoon the streets here are live­lier than any day in Seattle.

So far our group has been in Seoul for a lit­tle over a week. We’ve seen so much, and yet we’ve still only cov­ered a frac­tion of this enor­mous city. This past week­end we left the cen­ter of Seoul and bussed to Geum­seonsa, a Bud­dhist tem­ple on one of the moun­tains that rings the city. See­ing Seoul from above is incred­i­ble. Unlike Seat­tle, Seoul wasn’t built up onto the hills. The build­ings fol­low nat­ural val­leys between the hills, like a river. The moun­tains remain untouched.

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The entrance to the temple.

As our pro­gram focuses on mod­ern, dig­i­tal Korean cul­ture, our pro­fes­sors included the tem­ple stay so that we could get a taste of a more spir­i­tual aspect of Korea. At the tem­ple we were issued baggy pants and t-shirts and given a crash-course in Bud­dhism for Peo­ple Who Don’t Know Any­thing About Bud­dhism. This included eat­ing fully veg­e­tar­ian meals, and attend­ing an evening ser­vice con­ducted by a ton­sured female monk. After she sang a series of sutras, we bowed 108 con­sec­u­tive times in repten­tence for our greed, jeal­ousy, and other flaws, and also with vows to be bet­ter and to be grate­ful for the gifts we have.

It didn’t exactly hurt while I was bow­ing but right after I had to walk fifty steps down the moun­tain­side and couldn’t really feel my legs (read: I almost fell off the moun­tain). By the time we woke up for the morn­ing ser­vice at 4:30 am EVERYTHING WAS PAIN. It cer­tainly was con­ve­nient that every build­ing in the tem­ple com­plex was built on a dif­fer­ent level of the moun­tain and only acces­si­ble by stone steps. Yep.
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We had a morn­ing ser­vice, sit­ting cross-legged on cush­ions, did more bows, med­i­tated for maybe twenty min­utes (PAIN) and then went out for a walk­ing med­i­ta­tion. As we paced around the Bud­dha hall, the world slowly woke up around us. Lights went off down in the city, and the cicadas started to buzz. Also, I stepped on the heels of the guy in front of me like, twice, and I felt really bad because obvi­ously I was not pay­ing atten­tion to myself like I was sup­posed to.

I’m really bad at meditating.

Photo credit: Geumseonsa Temple Stay Program

Photo credit: Geum­seonsa Tem­ple Stay Program

The high­light of the day was a ter­ri­fy­ing tra­di­tional Bud­dhist meal, eaten in the Bud­dha hall in com­plete silence. Every aspect of the meal had a rit­ual, from the serv­ing to the clean­ing of our bowls when we were done. The entire thing was presided over by two very benev­o­lent and non-judgmental monks, but I was relieved to see the Korean par­tic­i­pants screw­ing up the rit­u­als at least as much as I was.

Our tem­ple stay ended with paper lotus lanterns, and a hike back down the moun­tain through another tem­ple that was built inside a nat­ural cave. We left with sore legs and a CD record­ing of the 108 bows on it… just in case I want to inflict them on any­one I know.

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Yeah, we didn’t really get to shower.

Tem­ple stays are avail­able at many tem­ples in Korea, with vary­ing degrees of inten­sity. The pro­gram at Geum­seonsa is appar­ently pretty hard­core. Last year the study abroad went to a dif­fer­ent tem­ple and didn’t sit on the floor as much as we did, or do the 108 bows. It was great to step out of my com­fort zone and try some­thing new, though. Kind of like camping.

Still, I’m glad to be back in bustling Seoul, even in the mid­dle of a typhoon!

Antici… pation

Blog by Simone de Rochefort, UW Both­ell Cul­ture, Lit­er­a­ture and the Arts Major, Study Abroad–South Korea

In 9 days, 17 hours, and 4 min­utes, I will be at Seatac Air­port, board­ing a plane for Seoul, South Korea. Well, tech­ni­cally I will be board­ing a plane to San Fran­cisco, but Korea will be the next stop and des­ti­na­tion notwith­stand­ing I’m sure I will shak­ing and pos­si­bly qui­etly screech­ing with excitement.

You see, this trip is a long time com­ing. A lit­tle back­ground on me: I’m a junior at UW Both­ell, major­ing in Cul­ture, Lit­er­a­ture and the Arts. My name is Simone! Hi there! My two great pas­sions in life are writ­ing and bond­ing with my com­puter on a mol­e­c­u­lar level. That is to say, I’m an avid explorer of the tech­no­log­i­cal fron­tier, by which I mean, I’m kind of addicted to the Inter­net. At UW Both­ell I real­ized I could com­bine my inter­ests and now I’m focus­ing my stud­ies on nar­ra­tive and game design, with a healthy dose of cul­tural stud­ies and women’s stud­ies (which any woman plan­ning to go into the game indus­try should be well-versed in).

My other great pas­sion is trav­el­ing, but as you can imag­ine, this is one that I don’t get to indulge quite as often. With two jobs, and school full-time, I tend to get more sta­tion­ary as the year wears on. Last year I real­ized I was get­ting way too attached to my bed, and that’s when I decided to take advan­tage of the UW’s Explo­ration Sem­i­nars. For those not in the know, the pro­grams take place at the end of sum­mer, and usu­ally last 3–5 weeks—in other words, the per­fect amount of time for a busy and finan­cially strapped stu­dent to travel the world. Last sum­mer I treated myself to four weeks in Lon­don study­ing Shake­speare, which included see­ing Kevin Spacey as Richard III, just say­ing. When I came back I knew I absolutely had to go some­where this sum­mer as well, and that’s pretty much when mir­a­cles started to happen.

The descrip­tion for the iSchool’s Explo­ration Sem­i­nar to Korea basi­cally reads as if some­one had gone down a check­list of my inter­ests and then tai­lored a pro­gram for me. Let’s see, it cov­ers pop cul­ture. How peo­ple inter­act with tech­nol­ogy. Social media. Oh, and it takes place in Seoul, one of the most dynamic cities on the planet, a place I’ve been dying to visit for over a year now. Did I men­tion that I’m absolutely crazy about Korean pop cul­ture, and actu­ally taught myself to read Hangul on the flight back from London?

Basi­cally, bright lights shone down from the sky, I wrote an appli­ca­tion months in advance, sub­mit­ted it days after the appli­ca­tion cycle started, and bit my nails for two months while I waited for a reply.

And then I got in!

And then the pro­gram got cancelled!

Seri­ously, for some rea­son, there weren’t enough appli­cants and the Infor­ma­tion School basi­cally called the whole thing off. Which, you know, would have been a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing but not dire if I hadn’t already bought plane tick­ets in the same mil­lisec­ond that I got accepted. “That’s okay!” I told myself, “I’ll just work it out and plan an amaz­ing KOREAN VACATION instead!”

Still, I was pretty gut­ted about it. What drew me to the pro­gram was really the cur­ricu­lum com­bined with the loca­tion. I felt like the mate­r­ial we were set to cover would fit really well in my degree, as well as influ­ence my future career path— Korea is the IT cap­i­tal of the world, and I’m con­sid­er­ing work­ing there some­day. A vaca­tion would be great, but what I really wanted was my five cred­its worth of learning.

We had mostly despaired but then, after much plead­ing, a lot of leg­work from the pro­gram instruc­tors, and a gen­er­ous dona­tion from the Infor­ma­tion School, we man­aged to get more stu­dents and enough fund­ing to cover the empty spots. The trip was back on!

And from that day forth my vocab­u­lary has con­sisted mostly of screeches of excite­ment in var­i­ous octaves, which can prob­a­bly be heard from space.

In this vein of antic­i­pa­tion, I’ve been super-productive. I test-packed my suit­case! I bought a tiny, func­tional, and styl­ish back­pack for my iPad! I got over­whelmed with work and com­pletely neglected my Korean lan­guage stud­ies! Oops. Any­way, the point is, I’m so ready for this trip. I feel like I’ve been wait­ing for it for way more than five months—I’ve been wait­ing for it my whole life. Sud­denly it’s barely a week away and I’m a mess, re-checking all my check­lists, glar­ing at my empty suit­cases, buy­ing tiny sham­poo bot­tle in the dozens, all in the hopes that it will make these next nine days pass faster.

But time con­tin­ues to go at 60 sec­onds per minute and 60 min­utes per hour, and I’m not sure how much antic­i­pa­tion one human can pos­si­bly stand. So here’s to my upcom­ing trip! Next time I post I will prob­a­bly be in Seoul.

That is, if I haven’t spon­ta­neously com­busted, first.

9 days, 15 hours, and 52 minutes.